It was a Valentine’s Day from hell.

According to a complaint filed Friday in federal court, Tom Mosgrove spent Valentine’s Day in 2022 in Santa Clara County jail after his then-wife called the police and reported that he pushed her into a closet and blocked her from leaving.

Tom Mosgrove claims that he was not an instigator of the incident and never touched his wife nor did anything of a violent or threatening nature that night, but the police arrested him anyway because of a county policy that allegedly requires someone to be arrested when police respond to a domestic violence incident, even if there is no probable cause to arrest.

Tom Mosgrove’s suit alleges that the county policy — set out in something called the “Domestic Violence Protocol” — is unconstitutional and what happened to him was a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches or seizure.

Tom Mosgrove alleges that his 25-year marriage to Wendy Mosgrove had deteriorated by February of 2022 and the parties were discussing divorce.

At that time, they lived together in a home on Chinook Court in Morgan Hill. Their 2,800-square-foot home had five bedrooms and was later sold for $1.9 million, according to the real estate website Redfin.com.

During the course of their marriage, Tom Mosgrove alleges, Wendy Mosgrove “generally demonstrated a violent temper and was often verbally and physically abusive to plaintiff.”

In one particular incident, Wendy Mosgrove allegedly “assaulted plaintiff with a pellet gun, threatened him with a knife, and threw his clothes out on the front lawn.”

After Tom Mosgrove’s brother called the police, Wendy Mosgrove was allegedly arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, placed on probation for three years, and required to take anger management instruction.

The incident was not an isolated occurrence; according to Tom Mosgrove, there were numerous other occasions in which she allegedly became violent and locked him out of their house, though those incidents were not reported to the police.

‘Let’s see how you like being arrested’

The incident that precipitated the lawsuit arose against the background of the couple’s ongoing discussions concerning a divorce. According to Tom Mosgrove, he hoped for an amicable divorce and proposed they share an attorney. Wendy Mosgrove resisted meeting the attorney, but agreed to do so on Feb 10th, only after he advised her that he planned to engage the lawyer on the 11th.

On the evening of the 10th, when Wendy Mosgrove came in, Tom Mosgrove asked her about the meeting with the attorney. She allegedly became “verbally abusive” and then walked away upstairs.

Still trying to talk to her, Tom Mosgrove joined her in their bedroom.

The complaint says she went into a walk-in closet and continued to verbally abuse him. She told him to stay away from the closet and threatened to call the police.

She then said, “let’s see how you like being arrested,” and she called the Morgan Hill Police, according to the complaint.

Several police officers arrived at the house around 8:15 p.m. The complaint alleges that the officers were dispatched to investigate her claims that Tom Mosgrove pushed her into the closet and blocked her from leaving.

Tom Mosgrove went outside with one officer and two went in to talk with Wendy Mosgrove.

Tom Mosgrove claims that he explained that he was not physically or verbally abusive, never touched her, and didn’t block her from leaving the closet. He says there were no physical injuries nor signs of a fight or struggle.

He says the police told him that when there is a report of domestic violence, the police are required to arrest someone and in this case it was likely to be him. That proved to be true when he was deemed to be the “primary aggressor” and arrested.

He was taken to jail where he was held until Feb. 15, when his sister bailed him out.

A Sharply Different Version of the Incident

Wendy Mosgrove offered a sharply different view of the incident than the one Tom Mosgrove alleged in his lawsuit.

She commenced divorce proceedings against Tom Mosgrove on Feb. 16, 2022 and the divorce was entered July 2023.

Shortly after she commenced the divorce proceedings, she asked Santa Clara County Superior Court to enter a domestic violence restraining order against Tom Mosgrove.

In the affidavit that accompanied her request, she gave her version of the events on the night of his arrest.

In the affidavit, she alleged that Tom Mosgrove had been drinking that night and, when she said she wouldn’t talk to him when he had been drinking, he became “enraged.” 

She alleged that he pushed her into the bedroom closet, “then stood in the doorway blocking me from getting out of my closet.”

She said, “I started to panic; he had a very dark, cold, hateful look in his eyes, and I was afraid.” 

Her cellphone was in the closet, and she called the Morgan Hill Police Department for help. 

According to her account, the police arrived and, after interviewing each of them, they took Tom away. 

Her affidavit alleges that throughout their 25-year marriage, he was “controlling and abusive” toward her, and his conduct was frequently fueled by alcohol.  She scoffed at the suggestion she was physically abusive to him – as his lawsuit alleges — pointing out that she is 5 feet 4 inches tall and 120 pounds and he is nearly 6 feet.

Court records show that her request for a restraining order was granted on Feb. 22, and it was later extended to run through May 22, 2022.

The Confinement

Tom Mosgrove’s confinement was traumatic. He alleges that he had a number of medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, anxiety and seizures, for which he must take medication.

For several days he wasn’t allowed access to his medication, he said, and when he was, it was not on the schedule that was prescribed by his doctors.

After the third day without medication, Tom Mosgrove allegedly passed out inside his jail cell and was taken to the emergency room where he stayed overnight “handcuffed to a hospital bed.”

He was back in jail on Valentine’s Day, where he remained in his cell all day allegedly because of “problems with the cell door.”

He was released on Feb. 15 and thereafter all charges against him were dropped.

Scrutiny on arrest protocol

The lawsuit focuses on his contention that California state law allows a person to be arrested only when there is “probable” cause to do so.

According to the complaint, Tom Mosgrove was arrested for two misdemeanors — “domestic violence battery of a spouse” and false imprisonment. He contends that based on the facts, no reasonable police officer could have believed that there was probable cause to arrest him the night of February 10th.

The reason he was arrested and jailed for five days, he contends, is because the Domestic Violence Protocol requires an arrest even if there is no probable cause to arrest the suspect.

The protocol was first developed in 1993 at the request of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Santa Clara County and the Domestic Violence Council.

The protocol is set out in writing and is annually updated. The 2022 version is 77 pages long and begins with a policy statement that says domestic violence is a serious community problem and that the law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County “agree to respond to acts of domestic violence as crimes.”

Screenshot shows the first two paragraphs under policy statement of Santa Clara County's Domestic Violence Protocol for Law Enforcement 2022. (Police Chiefs' Association of Santa Clara County)

Tom Mosgrove focuses his attention on a section that says “When a misdemeanor assault or battery has been committed outside the officer’s presence, and the victim is the suspect’s spouse... a peace officer shall arrest the suspect.”

(Whether that section was really intended to dispense with the need for probable cause, as Tom Mosgrove alleges, seems open for debate because the next paragraph in the protocol refers to the particular Penal Code section that requires probable cause.)

The protocol lays out how responders are to process reports of domestic violence.

One section has detailed instructions for how an officer who arrives on the scene should assess what happened between the parties.

The multiple considerations identified in the protocol illustrate how complicated such a situation may be. Among the things the officers are told to determine are whether children are present, whether there are weapons at the site, do all speak English or need an interpreter, are there physical injuries, is any person in pain, are there signs of strangulation or traumatic brain injury, was anyone forced to participate in sex acts, and whether anyone is subject to a restraining order.

If there are indications that both parties used force, the officers are directed to determine who is the “dominant aggressor,” that is “the person who is the most significant, rather than the first, aggressor.”

Pagransen requested comment on the allegations in the complaint from the county attorney of Santa Clara County, the Morgan Hill City Attorney’s Office and the lawyer representing Tom Mosgrove in the lawsuit. None immediately responded to requests for comment.

Note: This story has been updated to include comment and background information from court records and Wendy Mosgrove.

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at [email protected].